In the Spotlight: Daniel Miller
When it comes to writing a screenplay, Daniel has developed a unique voice. Being a professional VFX artist has allowed him to bring a distinctive take on the craft of screenwriting. Daniel learned early on in his career that he can grow as a writer by pushing himself to learn all aspects of filmmaking. This has led him to several successful festival runs and is why I am excited to introduce you to him.
This is Daniel Miller...
I’m 42 and from mixed British/Iranian heritage. I studied a kind of mixed Media degree and initially struggled with money getting into the industry and I took a sort of busman’s holiday to Italy so I could write and make short films while teaching English. That lasted 7 years and I came back with a wife and son in tow. During that time, I made a fair number of ultra-low-budget films, very ropey technically but I was lucky to work with some very talented actors and people liked my writing which resulted in my work playing at festivals. Working on the technical side I got better and better and now work as a VFX Artist!
Now I am back writing my own material, with a short film, “Broken Toy”, in pre-production and a feature screenplay needing a second draft.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
I’ve been writing from a very young age and even in school tended to write plays rather than stories (usually impossible to stage plays featuring Rambo and plane crashes).
After seeing “Shallow Grave” and “Pulp Fiction” I became aware of how those films were written. Then I went back and looked over other films I loved and read their screenplays. Callie Khouri’s screenplay for “Thelma and Louise” is incredible.
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Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
Movies themselves! The great making-of documentaries we had in the 80’s such as “From Star Wars to Jedi” and “The Making of Superman” are probably what brought me into VFX and screenwriting.
The films I watched as a kid and teenager especially late-night TV: lots of film-noir like “The Big Combo” and “Detour”. 50s-60s sci-fi such as “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and British movies like Hammer horror or kitchen sink dramas such as “A Taste of Honey”, French art-house like “The Hairdresser’s Husband”. Weirdly I think having fewer TV channels (the UK only had 4 back in the 80’s and 90’s) actually exposed us to a wider range of films then now, where you can binge-watch all the big franchise movies whenever you want.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
I’m going to have to start with my mother. As a young kid, my school believed I was mentally deficient as I had trouble learning to read. My mother made them carry out an IQ test and I ended up with a scholarship to a private school on a program for gifted children. Looking back I think that was a big lesson not to accept people’s crap without testing it yourself!
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
I have always wanted to tell stories and create films. Working in other areas of the filmmaking process I have increasingly come to believe that they all depend on great writing & great editing. Plus a great screenplay has clear intentions.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
I think if I can create something an audience believes in and make a living doing that then that is success for me. A day job would suck the success right out of me. But I think you have to believe in what you are doing. Because even if you make a fortune with no faith in the project then that is a failure.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
I’m a burn the candle at both ends kind of guy.
When do you get up?
I get up 7 or 6:15 am on days I go to the gym.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Make an espresso for me and one for my wife.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
Drink coffee, do tai chi, then wake the kids up and start getting them ready.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual?
Get the kids to bed, wash dishes and then it’s a mix of writing, correspondence and tutorials to keep my skills up to date.
How do you define a successful day?
If I’ve made something cool, written something good or made a connection that’s a successful day!
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
Keeping the story on track. Working as an editor, particularly on unscripted factual content I think has really helped my writing – making a story from a limited amount of footage is a useful skill and I try to think like an editor as I write. Working in VFX also helps visualize imagery and of course, when you fix things in post you become aware of mistakes to avoid in your own projects!
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Finishing the damn script! I have found moving from writing a short to a feature requires a lot more momentum and planning.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
VFX is a really rewarding career in its own right and I hope it is also building connections for my own projects too! Living in Italy brought me great taste in coffee and also a fantastic wife.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
I believe that a first draft is a fairly solitary affair, but subsequent revisions are best made with feedback from skilled and experienced writers and other professionals. Also, it’s really useful to learn about other people’s work habits and approaches to completing and promoting their work.